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Know-Nothings will ruin our county, if we let them

Based on bigotry and ignorance, the Know-Nothing Party was a powerful political force in the 1850s. Ultimately, it merged with the Whigs and the Free-Soil Party to form the Republican Party, and most historians thought that it had disappeared from the political scene. If so, the party has apparently been reborn in Nevada County under its new advocate, Drew Bedwell. In true Know-Nothing fashion, Mr. Bedwell announced on his March 25 Web site that he wants to lock up and prevent the public from knowing results of the NH 2020 experts’ reports on our county’s open space and natural assets.

History has known many demagogues who have wanted to burn books and writings they disagreed with. To the Know Nothings, ignorance is power – our ignorance, not theirs. Bedwell and his backers are dumb like a fox. It is clear that they are attempting to implement a two-step plan; a plan to stick it to us homeowners and to make themselves rich. Here is their plot.



Bedwell’s first step; kill NH 2020. Land speculators and developers have a love/hate relationship with zoning laws. They love it when they can buy undeveloped land zoned for agriculture or forestry, change the zoning to commercial, and sell or develop it at a huge profit. They hate it when the county refuses to rezone the land they bought cheaply. Then they yell, “It’s my land! I should be able to do anything I want with it!.” Not so. Your right to swing your fist any way you want stops at my nose. A developer’s right to do what he wants with his property, due to zoning laws, stops at his neighbor’s property line. This is what protects you, if you live in a residential area, from having a developer build a gas station or a pig farm next door.




The General Plan, in effect, is a countywide zoning ordinance. The population of the county is growing, and it makes sense for us to plan for that growth in an intelligent manner – to plan for zoning changes in those areas where it will do the least damage to our watersheds and natural resources. NH 2020 is the program by which the county hired experts to map out the most vulnerable and least vulnerable areas of our county and, armed with that information, to allow committees of our citizens (rather than just politicians) to make recommendations as to the future development of our county. Who could possibly object to that? Who now wants to lock up and hide the experts’ reports? Obviously, only friends of the land developers who are planning to demand zoning changes that may well be most damaging to our natural resources.

As to Mr. Bedwell’s screaming about property rights, let me briefly quote from a foremost land use expert, Donovan Rypkema:

“The ‘property rights’ movement is the most selectively aggrieved political force in America. Those who loudly proclaim, ‘It’s my land, and you can’t tell me what to do with it’ are quick to appear before City Councils when a homeless shelter is moving in next door or a sanitary landfill is proposed next to their cottage …

“As a crass unrepentant capitalist real estate Republican type, I am certainly all for property rights. But who is talking about property responsibilities? This surreal concept that the right to own real estate somehow exempts one from having to balance rights with responsibilities … is not only alien to 300 years of American political history, antithetical to how the west was developed, and the most blatant renunciation of fiscal responsibility today, but it is the ultimate gimmick to pass on bankrupt cities to our kids 20 years from now …

“The so-called ‘property rights’ movement is the singularly most misguided, historically inaccurate, fiscally irresponsible political movement of the last half century. … The towns and cities that will be economically competitive in the 21st century are those that pay attention to quality of life criteria, and I would suggest to you that is what Smart Growth is really about.”

Bedwell’s second step; stick it to the taxpayers. Stopping NH 2020 was only the icing; now comes the cake. Bedwell’s friends and supporters are now circulating a “Property Owner Compensation Initiative,” which they hope to place on the November ballot. As you know, under our constitution, the government cannot take property without due compensation. Our eminent domain laws protect us. That is not good enough for the Know-Nothings. If this initiative is passed, every time a developer wants to put a motel or a strip mall or whatever else he might want to build next door to you, if the county refuses to rezone, you and I, as taxpayers, will have to pay him the difference between what the property is now worth, as he bought it, and what it would have been worth if he had obtained his rezoning to the “beneficial best [most profitable] use” of the property. This would obviously soon bankrupt the county so the practical effect is that the county will be rendered powerless to enforce our zoning laws, and developers will be able to build whatever they want wherever they want with no responsibility for the damage it might do to the land values of their neighbors, to the beauty of our surroundings or to the safety of the rest of us.

But the Know-Nothings don’t want to risk the possibility of the voters not adopting the initiative. If Bedwell and Robin Sutherland are elected to the Board of Supervisors, together with their like-minded supervisor, Sue Horne, this troika will control the county Board of Supervisors, and it alone can bury the NH 2020 experts’ reports and adopt the Property Owner Compensation scheme into law without having to worry about an initiative.

If you vote for the Bedwell/Sutherland/Horne troika, the Know-Nothing Party will be alive and well again in Nevada County. And our forests may be denuded, our streams befouled, and a factory, a strip mall or a motel may be built anywhere in your residential neighborhood.

Hank Starr is a divorce lawyer who lives and practices in Nevada City.


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